Citation for Bayʿah

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MLA

Nakhleh, Emile A. . "Bayʿah." In The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Islamic World. Oxford Islamic Studies Online. Dec 3, 2021. <http://www.oxfordislamicstudies.com/article/opr/t236/e0107>.

Chicago

Nakhleh, Emile A. . "Bayʿah." In The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Islamic World. Oxford Islamic Studies Online, http://www.oxfordislamicstudies.com/article/opr/t236/e0107 (accessed Dec 3, 2021).

Bayʿah

An unwritten contract or a pact, a bayʿah involves a recognition of, and an oath of allegiance to, a caliph, a ruler, a king, or an emir. This oath is usually given on behalf of the subjects by the leading members of the tribe, or the important members of a family or a clan. When these tribal representatives (or “electors”) make the pact with the ruler, they do so with the understanding that as long as the ruler abides by certain responsibilities toward his subjects, they are to maintain their allegiance to him. Usually, the representatives include religious scholars (ʿulamāʿ), political leaders within the community, and sometimes family elders. The bayʿah involves also a bestowing of God's blessings or felicity (riḍwān) on the ruler by the representatives of his subjects.

The Arabic phrase expressing these blessings, “Raḍiya Allāh ʿanhu” (“May God be pleased with him”), is traced to the time of the prophet Muḥammad and his companions. The same phrase was used also during the time of the caliphs. In the Qurʿān, riḍwān means that God looks with favor upon the ruler who is given the bayʿah by his subjects and is pleased with him. The ruler is essentially receiving God's “good pleasure.” Sūrah al-Fatḥ gives an illustration of God's riḍwān on the faithful: Allāh's good pleasure was on the Believers when they swore fealty to Thee under the tree: He knew what was in their hearts, and He sent down tranquility to them, and He rewarded them with a speedy victory (48.18). As a final, complete, and unequivocal acceptance by God, the riḍwān is cited again in the Sūrah al-Fajr (8.27–30).

The prophet Muḥammad himself received individual oaths of fealty from his followers in 628 CE at al-Hudaybīyah, a place on the road from Jeddah to Mecca, where he was preparing to make a pilgrimage to Mecca, in accordance with the Qurʿānic revelation (48.27) that he would pray there. The oath given to the Prophet was known as the “Pact of Felicity” or bayʿat al-riḍwān.

The bayʿah is still practiced in countries such as Saudi Arabia, especially at the time of the ascension to the throne. In 1964 during the dispute between King Saʿūd ibn ʿAbd al-ʿAzīz and his brother, the heir apparent Fayṣal, the latter was able to secure the throne as a result of the bayʿah that he received from the ʿulamāʿ and other community leaders. Following the assassination of Fayṣal in 1975, his brother Khālid received a similar bayʿah from the ʿulamāʿ, as did Fahd in June 1982 upon the death of King Khālid.

The social, economic, and political challenges facing modern Muslim states, the rise of political Islam as a political movement, and the increasing demands by both Islamic and secular elites for political participation suggest that Muslim leaders are increasingly unlikely to receive bayʿat al-riḍwān unconditionally. Several important questions remain unanswered: what would an aspirant to the throne do if the representatives of the subjects refuse to extend the bayʿah to him? What would happen if a segment of the population decides to withdraw its bayʿah? Would such a person rely on the military to bring him to office and secure him there? Bayʿah, like other concepts of classical tribal Islam, is experiencing enormous change as traditional tribal communities transform themselves into modern administrative states.

See also AUTHORITY AND LEGITIMATION.

Bibliography

  • Bligh, Alexander. From Prince to King: Royal Succession in the House of Saud in the Twentieth Century. New York: New York University Press, 1984.
  • Khadduri, Majid, et al., eds.Law in the Middle East, Vol. 1. Washington, D.C., 1955. Scholarly anthology on the origin and development of Islamic law.
  • Mottahedeh, Roy. Loyalty and Leadership in an Early Islamic Society. Rev. ed.London: I.B.Tauris, 2001.

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